Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why ACT Should Replace TNReady

The testing landscape for Tennessee’s students will hopefully change for the better in the near future. There are five bills pending in our state legislature concerning standardized testing: HB 262, HB 263/SB 204, HB 1018/SB 632, HB 1043/SB 2, and HB 1251. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the frustrated voices of teachers, students, and parents are being heard. It’s a problem when my students will spend more time this year taking a standardized test in English 3 than I did taking the GRE exam to get into graduate school (225 minutes) or than Betsy DeVos did in her confirmation hearings to become the U.S. Secretary of Education (169 minutes).

Four of these bills intend to replace TNReady with the ACT or SAT exam, either by force or by choice, depending on the wording of the particular bill. The fifth bill, introduced by Rep. Butt and Sen. Bowling, does not specify a testing platform but instead limits the amount of hours that a student is allowed to spend taking a standardized test depending on that student’s grade level. While the number of hours per grade level are completely arbitrary, it is well-intentioned.

Despite the Tennessee Department of Education significantly reducing the length of TNReady, it’s not anywhere close to good enough. My English 3 students will spend 230 minutes taking all four subparts of TNReady--and that’s a reduction of 120 minutes from the testing time on last year’s test. I support the idea of allowing--not forcing--school districts to replace TNReady with ACT.

The entire ACT exam takes 175 minutes, which includes four subjects. The English and Reading subsections are a combined 80 minutes. These testing times are much more reasonable. Replacing TNReady with ACT will lead to a significant decrease in testing time at the end of the school year, which means I get to spend more class time providing authentic learning opportunities for my students.

Additionally, high school students have the option to take the ACT test several times a year. High school students currently get to take the test twice for free. Unlike TNReady, students have the opportunity to retake the test and get better.

Also unlike TNReady, the ACT has existed for almost 60 years and is both valid and reliable. We will not know for many years if TNReady truly measures what it says is measures, and if it can do so on a consistent basis. Teachers and school districts are being evaluated based on how well students perform on a newly created state test. It’s a completely unfair and illegitimate practice.

Unlike TNReady, a plethora of ACT test questions is readily available. No additional professional development will be required because teachers already know what is on the test. That, in turn, will increase student proficiency on the ACT, which will lead to more students getting college scholarship money and will make myself, my school, and my district all look like we are doing an amazing job of preparing our students for college. Finally, many other states are already using the ACT Aspire suite of assessments for their statewide assessment. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Wyoming all use multiple ACT assessments in their states. It’s time for Tennessee do the right thing for our students and follow suit.

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